In conversations with many teachers and parents, the opinion is divided about whether to focus on the positive behaviour of non-drinkers (the majority of 15-year-olds in Australia) or the negative choice of binge drinking by the minority of 15-year-olds. There are those who believe most young people will try alcohol at some stage, so we should shock students by telling true stories of disaster parties plus those who misuse alcohol and binge drink. On the flip side, others are simply tired of constantly battling the messages presented by the media and fellow parents or teachers, who continue to suggest ALL young people consume alcohol, saying “it is just what they do.”
An Increase in Non-drinkers
I found it refreshing when a parent and teacher said to me recently, “I was really starting to worry that I was wrong about alcohol and young people. Too many parents I talk to suggest it’s just what happens, so we need to accept they’re all going to try it. Thank you for reassuring me today that I have been debating for the right reason, that my kids are not alone and many young people are not binge drinking or taking drugs.”
Young people are emphasised in the media for their binge drinking, crazy parties and irresponsible behaviour. However, what isn’t pointed out is the positive statistics, which I feel deserve more air-time. You might be pleasantly surprised that in Australia there has been a steady increase in the number of young people who consider themselves non-drinkers (ASSAD 2011 [latest national data]).
Do young people need to know about the risks associated with alcohol, binge drinking and other drug use? YES, absolutely, and real stories of those who have had a bad experience can be very effective to illustrate a message. However, in our experience and based on research knowledge, the focus and basis of alcohol and other drug education needs to include the majority of young people who celebrate safely, make great choices who aren’t binge drinking.
Recently, I was asked to provide feedback for the Youth Development – Applying a Positive Approach from the Office for Youth. We continually support documents like this, as they promote the focus on the strengths of young people. The document states,
A positive approach focuses on building the personal attributes of the participants. It promotes development of skills, behaviours and beliefs that contribute to thriving young people. It does not focus on addressing perceived problem-behaviour.”
(Office for Youth 2014)
Binge Drinking & Young People
Feedback from our Encounter Youth Education™ is continually positive, that young people appreciate not being told what to do, but respond well to guided questions, which allow them to realise and assess for themselves the dangers and risks to them. A Year 11 student recently commented to me that,
[they] liked how it was a discussion on drinking and socialising safely and it wasn’t like a lecture…”
Young people want to be treated like the young adults they are developing into, so it’s important we inform them appropriately so that the message resonates with them. Our seminars empower students to answer their own questions about alcohol, binge drinking and other drug use. This is only possible by providing students with a voice. Ask students to consider their own beliefs and expectations about drinking and/or drug choices and be sure to provide them with the opportunity to say why they make the choices they do.
Anyone working with young people needs to allow time to listen to the students and let them ask questions, which will aid them in looking after themselves and their mates when celebrating. And lastly, I’d recommend giving praise to young people where it is due—continually encourage those young people making great choices.